Being shortlisted for a small business award depends 100% on the quality of your written entry. There is no opportunity to build rapport beforehand. You generally won’t have any idea who the judges are, nor are they likely to know anything about your business. The judges aren’t buying a product or service, nor are they comparing like for like. Your competitors will be businesses that are very different to yours, each with their own, unique story to tell.
Despite these formidable challenges, Australians continue to enter business award competitions in droves. Australia-wide competitions with small business categories that may be relevant to your solo business include the Telstra Business Awards, Cool Company Awards and SmartCompany Awards. Many shire councils also have local awards programs.
A very deserving client of mine learned they were finalists in the 2008 Telstra Business Awards, a long journey that started with an entry I helped them write. This is something we’re both very proud of, not least because they were chosen from a field of 4,500.
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It’s true that my client has a great business and they are very innovative and passionate about what they do. But so, probably, are many others who didn’t get as far.
Here are a few pointers to help your next small business awards entry land on the ‘yes’ pile.
Be yourself. Judges are looking for great businesses, but they’re also looking for the human stories behind them. Be open about your failures as well as your successes and show how you’ve learned from the challenges you’ve faced. Write like you’re writing to just one person and use your natural tone of voice.
Find the uniqueness and value in what you do. Don’t just talk about how you do it. Long laundry lists and detailed descriptions of business processes are prime nod-off material for judges.
Don’t make stuff up if it doesn’t actually happen. A long, theoretical answer is a dead giveaway that you’re thinking about something but not actually doing it. Minimise the theory and use real examples and case studies to illustrate your claims.
Write, edit, polish, polish and polish again. There is usually a word limit for each question, so it’s essential that every claim and every word works hard for you. I worked on four separate drafts with my client, not counting the work they’d already done before it got to me.
Respect the judges’ time and rules. The judges are assessing your entry within a predetermined framework, which means you need to answer all the questions thoroughly, not just the ones where you think your answers will be strongest. Sticking to the word limits shows respect for the rules; a nice way to confirm this is to do a word count on each answer and discreetly insert the word count at the answer’s end.
Use testimonials and case studies to substantiate your claims. This is about your whole business, not just your product or service, so be creative. As well as customers, ask your suppliers and business partners to support you by sharing their stories about how your business has made a difference to them.
Have you entered your business for a small business award? Let us know via a comment.